Allen was a church planter who had seen some success using traditional church planting methods (i.e. visiting from home to home zipping around on his Kawasaki scooter) and a church was raised up in the small town he had been assigned to as a result. Having been reassigned to Manila for a church planting effort at the strategic intersection of two of the largest highways passing through the city, he quickly found his previously effective methods were a poor fit in the booming metropolis.
In 1990, while on a home ministry assignment, Allen attended a seminar where he met Ed, another missionary who was retiring from service in Caracas, Venezuela. Ed shared, in passing, that he had found a way to evangelize that had resulted in him seeing at least one person trust in Jesus a day for the preceding ten years. Naturally wanting to know more Allen spent some time with Ed and found out that Ed had simply started recording a new Daily Bread devotional on voice answering machine each day and letting people know that they could receive a daily encouragement/ word from the Lord by calling his phone number. Those who wanted to know more could call Ed’s personal line and Ed ended up praying a salvation prayer with at least one person a day. Wow, who would have ever thought that such a simple project could have had such an eternal impact!
Ed shared that his system could be multiplied and improved through the use of new DVA (Digital Voice Announcer) technology and with funding and technology in hand Allen returned to the field to start Telemensahe (Spanish for “Telephone Message”).
The two primary foci preceding the launch of Telemensahe were a) working out a good follow-up strategy and team and b) developing and recording a storehouse of audio messages (the ministry requires 365 messages a year and they wanted to avoid any repeats for at least 2-3 years). As an integral part of the follow up strategy Telemensahe linked up with a 9-5 Christian counseling center which also had a call in crisis counseling service in the evening. Callers who wanted follow-up were invited to call in to the center’s line. In terms of developing audio recordings, while the Daily Bread devotionals provided some good resources it was found that only about 30% of the devotionals were culturally relevant to the target population so most of the recordings were developed from scratch.
Once the follow-up system was set up and a stockpile of audio recordings were in hand a “hi-tech” marketing strategy was implemented! Allen figured out where the target area’s paper boys gathered to collect their daily lot of newspapers and got them to include a little postcard sized brochure on Telemensahe. That next week the line received 600 calls. The following week 700. On and on the response grew until they were eventually receiving thousands of calls a day! With technological progress including PBX and VOIP technologies the system was expanded to be able to field 8 – 10,000 calls a day and callers now have access to five levels of service including devotional messages, a salvation hotline, new believers’ hotline, personal follow up line, and events listings from participating ministries.
Looking back at Telemensahe’s smashing success (tens to hundreds of thousands having come to faith and joining the church) Allen, with the benefit of hindsight, does have a couple things he would have done differently:
1) He would have rolled out the ministry in a more geographically targeted way.
Perhaps doing media blitzes in specific subdivisions would have allowed for
more concentrated church planting efforts. This would have assisted in
follow-up too as lay leaders from the area could have been identified to take
on responsibility for follow-up.
2) He would have sought out greater partnership with local church leaders at an
earlier point in the outreach. Obviously following up hundreds and thousands
of contacts per day/week could be overwhelming even for a small ministry
team and Allen is firm in his belief that any media ministry is only as
effective as its follow up strategy.
Allen would also make a strong plea that any ministry or individual contemplating implementing such a project realize that it requires “maintainers” much more than “visionaries”. A visionary can get a voice based mobile ministry going but it is going to be “maintainers” who see the Lord’s call on their lives in following up contacts and getting them into churches as well as making sure new messages keep getting put up on a daily basis who are going to make the difference between one of these projects being a success or a failure. PTL, Telemensahe has had its share of maintainers.
Allen has also graciously given his input towards how an individual or small ministry team could implement a low-key “phonesite” outreach and those how-to’s can be found here.